Are We Tired of Character and Ethics Scandals Yet?

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Cultural factors have been at work for years, increasing the numbers of deficient, disturbed and highly irresponsible characters among us. Are we tired of the resulting character and ethics scandals yet? Will it be enough to get us to do something about it?

Like many others, I’ve been occasionally tuning in to the proceedings of the trial of the physician who was treating Michael Jackson at the time of his untimely death. And while there certainly has been no shortage of sensational revelations during court sessions, the most intriguing aspects of the case to me are the fact that the trial is occurring at all and the hard to understand reactions of some of the spectators who gather each day outside the courthouse.

I don’t plan to make any judgments whatsoever with respect to the possible legal guilt or innocence of the defendant. But I feel obliged to comment on what I consider to be yet another example of one of the main points that I make in my book Character Disturbance [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK](?) — namely that a wide variety of the ills plaguing modern, industrialized societies are directly traceable to the character crisis increasingly prevalent within them. The problem cuts across all walks of life, all social and economic levels, both sexes, and various age groups. And what really compounds the problem is that because of years of moral relativism and the blanket acceptance of sometimes outdated and critically inaccurate paradigms of understanding human nature, many folks have simply lost their ability to fairly and accurately appraise the character of others. That’s why so many people enter into relationships only to realize how dysfunctional, abusive, exploiting, or dangerous they are long after substantial damage has already been done.

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Dr. Conrad Murray is by no means the only high-profile person to be in the news of late because of alleged unethical, outrageous, or unscrupulous conduct. (See “Sheen, Madoff and Celebrity Psychology: Character Does Matter”.) When it comes to irresponsible conduct, there’s a wide open field, and a vast, ready and willing cast of nefarious characters ready to play. And because there are so many of these individuals out there, many of whom have come to prominent attention, it really perplexes me at times how difficult it still is for some folks to make simple, plain judgments about a person’s character. I can’t think of a case that’s made headlines in recent months where it wasn’t fairly clear early on that if there were a single shred of decency in the person caught red-handed in their horrendous conduct, they would not put the dwindling and already over-burdened responsible folks among us through the ordeal and expense of a media circus primarily designed to save their skins from sanction.

I have noticed that folks generally appear to be less understanding or forgiving if the scoundrel in question has become rich as a result of their misdeeds. In the case of Bernie Madoff, for example, I didn’t see anyone marching outside the courtroom carrying placards and advocating for the notion that the good things he might have done for some was de facto evidence that his character was being unjustly assailed. But I have seen such things in the current fiasco.

I know this is going to be a provocative point of view for some. But here’s how I see it: if we don’t recognize the real problem we have and how serious the problem has become, how in the world will we ever see our way clear to remedy it? The first step is clearing our minds of the misguided notions that have clouded our judgments about character. And there are some fairly straightforward principles by which almost anyone can fairly judge the integrity of another. Nobody’s perfect. But when a person has at least a minimum level of decency within them, and they do something really wrong, they take responsibility for it, don’t try to justify it and blame everyone else, don’t try to make others pay for their mistake, accept the consequences of their actions, and make a good-faith, from the heart commitment to do better next time. Society can set all the limits and boundaries it wants. But the willingness to respect those boundaries and limits instead of trying to get around them is always a matter of each individual heart. Character matters. And societies inevitably decline when we forget that.

There are increasing numbers of deficient, disturbed, and highly irresponsible characters among us. And there are cultural factors that have been at work for years — not the least of which are moral relativism, permissiveness, a huge sense of entitlement, and well-intended but inaccurate psychological paradigms of human understanding taught and promoted at many educational levels — which are at least partly responsible for “enabling” it. And if some outrageous scoundrels bringing the entire world to the brink of economic collapse is not enough to get the responsible folks among us to realize how important it is to recognize, deal with, and do something about what’s producing so any rascals among us, I’m not sure what will. So, even though I’ve written about it several times before (see “Disturbances of Character: The Most Pressing Issue of Our Age?”), and written an entire book about it, I’ve posted yet another article sounding the alarm and lamenting what I truly believe is the defining “phenomenon of our age.”

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